The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all tennis tournaments in China over safety concerns involving Peng Shuai.
35-year-old Shuai had disappeared for almost three weeks after she made sexual assault allegations against a senior Chinese minister. This prompted many including top tennis stars such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to call on the Chinese government to provide proof that Shuai was safe.
WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement, “When on November 2, 2021, Peng Shuai posted an allegation of sexual assault against a top Chinese government official, the Women’s Tennis Association recognized that Peng Shuai’s message had to be listened to and taken seriously. The players of the WTA, not to mention women around the world, deserve nothing less.
“From that moment forward, Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved. As Peng said in her post, “Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.” She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage.”
Simon said that Peng’s message had been ‘removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China.’ Chinese officials, he added, have been provided the opportunity to cease this ‘censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.’
He said, “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way.”
The WTA boss said that he had ‘serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.’
“The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation,” Simon added.
Last month, the International Olympic Committee had released a photo of what the organisation said was a chat between Peng Shuai and its president, Thomas Bach. The IOC had moved swiftly to declare that Shuai was safe. However, not many including the WTA appeared willing to buy the claims made by the IOC.
Simon said on Wednesday, “None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”
He said that ‘with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors,’ he was ‘announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.’
Simon’s stand earned him plaudits from tennis greats including 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratiolva, who tweeted, “This is a brave stance by Steve Simon and the WTA where we put principle above $ and stand up for women everywhere and particularly for Peng Shuai.
Now – what say you, @IOC?!? #IOC – so far I can barely hear you!!! #WhereisPengShuai.”
This is a brave stance by Steve Simon and the WTA where we put principle above $ and stand up for women everywhere and particularly for Peng Shuai.
Now – what say you, @IOC ?!? #IOC – so far I can barely hear you!!!#WhereisPengShuai https://t.co/X7tNDbs3Uu
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) December 1, 2021
Shuai, a former world number one in doubles, had written on Chinese microblogging site Weibo that she was forced into a sexual relationship with former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.